The man with the plan

Update: Mar. 12, 2020 U Sports announced the 2020 men’s volleyball national championship was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns. This article was written prior to this news.

It’s been a lot of planning and stressing, but the 2020 U Sports men’s volleyball national championship is finally here.

For Bisons Sports sports information and digital media co-ordinator John Gaudes, it’s been a marathon that’s felt like a sprint.

“You find out that you’ve won the bid first,” Gaudes said.

“I’m a little involved in the bid process usually, but it’s not to the extent where I know that we’re going to get it or not going to get it […] the process of working on it really dies down until we ramp up two or three months before the championship happens.

“And then it gets really crazy two to three weeks out when you know the teams that are coming.”

As the man in charge of marketing and media relations, this is where Gaudes comes into the picture. With teams and dates set, he can get to work promoting the tournament, the teams, the athletes and any storylines coming in.

One such storyline has been Eric Loeppky from the Trinity Western University Spartans, as the Manitoba-born outside returns to his home province in search of a national title.

Gaudes mentioned Loeppky is a “front-runner for most valuable player this season.”

“So that’s something where we know, ‘OK, he’s coming,’ and we can promote that, too.”

Gaudes and his team have been given a lot of freedom in planning and promoting the national championship, as U Sports has taken a hands-off approach.

“I will say that as time has gone on [they’ve] been more open to the host taking the reins with a lot of things,” Gaudes said.

“Once you get the bid […] you’re left alone to do your own thing, promoting the championships, and really when you bid you tell [U Sports] that ‘We’re going to do a certain amount of things.’

“Like when we bid for a championship like this we tell them we have an incredible volleyball fanbase, we know that we can sell out the games that we participate in […] so when we get that bid we have the expectation of just, ‘OK, they’re going to let us go and we’ll do our own thing.’”

U Sports supplies some branded materials and social media content, but Bison Sports has largely had the freedom to do as it will with the championship.

This hands-off approach by U Sports also has a pragmatic purpose, as the organization is spread thin with multiple championships happening in different locations during the month.

“They always have two championships going in the winter on the same weekend,” Gaudes said.

“With volleyball, they’ve also got hockey — in both genders — and obviously women’s volleyball in Calgary. They’re trying to keep their hands in four championships, so it’s difficult for them to try and rein people in with all that going on.”

While his focus is still firmly on this week’s championship, Gaudes’s year does not end once the national champion is crowned.

When asked if he’d thought about when the championship wraps, he couldn’t help but laugh.

“Yeah, I have,” Gaudes said.

“Then we have [the Brown and Gold Gala], and then March 29th is my day where things finally stop.”

A relatively lean year for the herd in terms of post-season action has meant Gaudes will have more time to breathe.

But this doesn’t mean he’s happy about it.

“March is always crazy,” he said.

“We’ve had great success with our women’s hockey team the last two years, so we’ve always had championships to look forward to — and now we have this, with the men’s volleyball team competing — so we’ve been really lucky.

“I’d rather be busy in March than not busy.”